Second screening of ‘transphobic’ film cancelled due to protests at Edinburgh University

The University has said it’s ‘disappointed that again this event has not been able to go ahead’


The screening of a gender critical film at Edinburgh University has been cancelled for a second time due to student protests.

On Wednesday, students and staff came together to protest and occupy the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre in George Square, leading to the cancellation of the screening on safety grounds.

The event was organised by the Edinburgh branch of Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF). The film, Adult Human Female, is a documentary which claims to “look at the clash between women’s rights and trans ideology”, and has previously been accused of being “transphobic”, however the film’s creators dispute this. 

The screening was called off at the last minute due to the protest outside the theatre, as well as the occupiers sitting outside the building, who argue that the documentary is transphobic and incites misinformed and inflammatory views towards transgender people. 

Student protest group Edinburgh Youth in Resistance took responsibility for forcing the cancellation. The group wrote: “We did it again! With intense university security protection AFAF tried hosting a screening of the extremely transphobic Adult Human Female. We made sure they couldn’t”.

The independent filmmakers behind the documentary told The Edinburgh Tab: “Although the film has been accused of ‘transphobia’ its critics are unable to cite a single quotation from our interviewees of ‘transphobia’.”

They continued: “This is a disagreement, not transphobia. What we are demanding is that the university allow the film to be rescheduled and to guarantee that it will go ahead without any disruptions so that women can freely meet to discuss the issues that affect them.” The filmmakers’ full statement can be found below.

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson told The Edinburgh Tab it is “disappointed that again this event has not been able to go ahead” and said the university is “fully committed to upholding freedom of expression”. They said: “With protesters restricting access to the venue, safety concerns were raised should the event proceed. It was therefore decided that the screening should not continue.”

The cancellation comes after months of pushback by groups such as the Gender Liberation Society, the Staff Pride network, and other societies at the university, who worked to prevent the screening of the same film in December

The cancellation comes after months of pushback by groups such as the Gender Liberation Society, the Staff Pride network, and other societies at the university, who worked to prevent the screening of the same film in December

The event has faced criticism, however, due to its disturbance of the screenings, causing it to be cancelled twice in the past six months. 

Who are the Academics for Academic Freedom?

Academics for Academic Freedom is a group which believes that academics should be allowed to “put forward controversial and unpopular opinions, whether or not these are deemed offensive”, its website says, arguing that academic institutions “have no right to curb the exercise of this freedom.” 

The Edinburgh branch is made up of academics from across the university and believes that “we now need to act to defend the academic freedom we value.”

Who are the Cabaret Against Hate Speech?

The Cabaret Against Hate Speech is an LQBTQ+ and ally group that aims to organise counter-protests against hate speech in Scotland through singing, dancing, and chanting.

Founded in January, the group has been faced with both hate and support from members of the public.

What is Adult Human Female about?

Adult Human Female is a 90-minute documentary “In Defence of Women’s Rights” that argues that the “trans movement” curbs their rights and that measures need to be put in place to safeguard “children and young people, biological reality, reason and even democracy.”

The documentary has faced criticism for the demonisation of trans and non-binary identities, as well as the perpetuation of harmful and misleading myths about trans rights. 

The Edinburgh AFAF had previously hosted a screening of the documentary in December, however, the venue was occupied by students who handed out flyers on trans rights instead.

In a statement to The Edinburgh Tab ahead of the December screening, Director Deirdre O’Neill said:We note that no evidence of transphobia in the film has been cited because none exists”, reiterating that the confusion of “transphobia, bigotry and demonisation” means “having a debate around this issue [is] so difficult because feminists are dismissed as fascists”.

AFAF also argued they were being targeted, saying in February: “We deplore the actions of those who try to stop discussions with which they disagree, whether by smears, slurs and monstering or, as we saw in December, by physically preventing people from gathering.” 

Responses to the screening

In response to the screening, the Gender Liberation Society said it was “saddened to see that [the university] have ignored our valid concerns” and said the inaction of the university “shows a total disregard for the mental wellbeing of the university’s trans community, who have already been made to feel unwelcome and unsafe by the initial attempted screening and now again by your decision to let EAFAF try once more”.

Similarly, the Staff Pride Network released a statement addressing the event, saying: “We, the Staff Pride Network committee and volunteers, do not support the screening of this film, the content of which has been widely condemned as transphobic, on our campus.”

In response to the protests, the Edinburgh AFAF released a statement ahead of the screening saying: “We remain of the view that the film deserves to be seen and discussed by people who are broadly critical of its contents, and by those who are seeking more information, as well as by those who are broadly in agreement. Issues of sex, gender and gender identity need to be carefully, respectfully and openly discussed, and we hope our event will provide an opportunity for that to happen. It should not be the case that women’s rights can only be discussed in secret.”

It continued: “Members of EAFAF strongly support the notion of the university as a safe space for discussion, not a safe space from discussion. We therefore look forward to welcoming to our event people with diverse views on sex and gender – and people who have yet to work out where they stand.”

The independent filmmakers behind the documentary told The Edinburgh Tab: “Although the film has been accused of ‘transphobia’ its critics are unable to cite a single quotation from our interviewees of ‘transphobia’. Shereen Benjamin, who teaches at Edinburgh University explicitly states that trans people deserve to have the same rights to dignity and respect as anyone else.

“The issue is that we believe a specific rights claim, that men who identify into the female sex be treated in policy and law as women, is detrimental to women’s rights. Critics can scream ‘transphobia’ at us. We could equally cry ‘misogynist’ back at them.

“Our real audience though is the broader public and it is clear that trans rights activists are terrified that a broader public will hear a reasoned, thoughtful, factual criticism of their position. This is a disagreement, not transphobia.

“What we are demanding is that the university allow the film to be rescheduled and to guarantee that it will go ahead without any disruptions so that women can freely meet to discuss the issues that affect them.

“The University College London managed this. Why can’t UoE?”

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson told The Edinburgh Tab: “At the University we are fully committed to upholding freedom of expression and academic freedom, and facilitating an environment where students and staff can discuss and debate challenging topics. We are disappointed that again this event has not been able to go ahead.

“In line with our commitment to fostering an inclusive, supportive and safe environment for our whole community, we worked with the organisers and put measures in place to mitigate risks associated with the event. However, with protesters restricting access to the venue, safety concerns were raised should the event proceed. It was therefore decided that the screening should not continue.”

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